Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Bank: Institution intent on not repeating past mistakes

By Margaret Canning

What's the last thing a bank needs after suffering years of losses and falling morale?

Ulster Bank’s 2012 summer of reckoning was probably the last thing it was expecting but it is an episode that will not quickly be forgotten.

If Gordon Ramsay ever branches out from Kitchen Nightmares to Corporate Cauchemars, Ulster Bank and its parent company Royal Bank of Scotland will surely make the shortlist.

Thousands of customers north and south of the border were left without access to their accounts for three weeks, to say nothing of millions of customers of NatWest and RBS who were also affected, albeit for a shorter period.

Mortgage payments and direct debits all went unpaid.

In an increasingly digital age, a company will stand or fall on the quality and reliability of its IT system.

In a company with hundreds of employees, an accident-prone IT system will cause no end of aggravation and frustration.

But when millions of customers depend on your IT system to keep their worlds turning and lives moving, you really have to get things right.

Unfortunately for Ulster Bank, it found out the hard way that software problems can have far-reaching consequences.

It started out innocuously enough, with RBS upgrading its batch scheduler software used to update the night’s transactions.

But there were problems with the update, so it was withdrawn — before the bank’s IT specialists could test the consequences of doing so. Chaos ensued.

Yesterday’s fine will give customers a grim sense of satisfaction that the bank is being publicly shamed.

Others point to the irony of a majority taxpayer-owned entity being fined by other bodies funded by the taxpayer.

Ian Gordon of Investec points out that in the context of the hundreds of millions of costs already incurred by RBS in customer redress and sorting out its IT, the further £56m may seem a mere bagatelle.

One thing is clear — it’s going to do its best to stop the same ‘cauchemar’ unfolding all over again.

Major IT investment is now part of a big strategic focus by the bank — and others will have also learnt from its misfortune.

Belfast Telegraph

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